Awards Circle: Belated Oscars 2016 Round-up (Part 1)

I return from my (academic) hiatus with a look back at the Best Picture nominees of the 88th Academy Awards. While my top pick didn’t win the plum (if you follow me online, you know how furiously passionate I am about it), I’m still delighted at the results. I can’t promise there will be no display of bad blood here (sorry in advance The Revenant, but you deserved your Oscars anyway. Sort of.). So here’s my take, counting down from the good to the best of 2015’s so-called best, and may the ceremonies to come prove to be more worthy and inclusive!

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8. The Martian

 Acclaimed director Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi fare and probably helmed one of the genre’s rare, ‘feel-good’ films, whose rousing thoughtfulness transcends from its extra-terrestrial setting. THE MARTIAN is more than a just a survival story of the titular character (which is also the same reason why Matt Damon would feel overshadowed). It is a celebration of genius that instills admiration to the men and women dedicated to pursuing the mystery of the vast truth beyond them. Familiar sci-fi elements run in its DNA but if there’s one thing THE MARTIAN successfully achieves (as compared to let’s say, Jurassic World), it invokes the natural sense of wonder and dread in space, and hope in humanity. Film-wise, THE MARTIAN is easily accessible thanks to the buoyant tone of Mark Watney’s (Damon) predicament. While his deadpan demeanour in lowering oxygen and supply levels makes him affable, it is his resilience that would make viewers root for him as he uproot himself from the red planet. Supporting characters orbiting Watney’s rescue mission seemed underutilized, but it was refreshing to see a strong female perspective in Jessica Chastain’s commander-at-large. In the end, my praises for the movie would be directed to the real astronauts and scientists, which I used to want to become when I was a child. (And I must admit on having fleeting memories of the superb Moon while watching). But the whole of THE MARTIAN does feel it serves a greater purpose – inspiring (not just promising young intellectuals) to believe in the impossible.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

 

7. The Big Short

The eventual Best Adapted Screenplay winner could be described as a testosterone-filled tableau about the ‘winners’ of the 2008 global financial crisis. Comedy-drama THE BIG SHORT boasts of Hollywood’s A-listers who re-enact the gamble of their Wall Street-counterparts as they hedge against the impending credit crunch. Among the eight Best Picture nominees, it is the most informative and factual (with respect to Spotlight), made attuned for mainstream viewing through Adam McKay‘s crisp direction and rapid interplay that webs the ensemble’s storylines. Smooth-talking Ryan Gosling as a Deutsche Bank dealer is convincing while Brad Pitt keeps the movie interesting by playing a retired trader aiding two green capitalists. The financial implosion would not feel cathartic if not for Christian Bale’s manic spiritual animal as the brilliant hedge fund manager who first recognized the collapse of mortgage-backed securities. Guest stars keep the viewers abreast of the concepts popping out and their appearances are amusing, if not a diversion from the real-life occurrence of such global disaster. Personally, I associate myself with Steve Carell’s grouchiness towards his profession. Turns out that in the end, we have something in common: we are both out from the market.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

 

6. The Revenant

I wasn’t surprised when THE REVENANT received its fair share of acclaim and criticism. The film that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first Best Actor trophy had admirably immersed viewers in the breath-taking yet perilous wilderness whose natural beauty is impeccably captured by three-peat cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Director Alejandro Inarritu indulges on another masterful attempt towards perfection, this time through a man’s undying strength and unbreakable spirit (a virtuous subject as compared to the relentless ego of Birdman). As the titular character, DiCaprio’s commitment to the role was Herculean in his undaunted quest for survival and revenge. THE REVENANT delivered one of cinema’s rawest adventures but amidst the grit and gloss, I am left underwhelmed by the meat of the story. The film relies heavily on flashbacks to unearth Hugo Glass’ motivations that felt more of a forced intermission than an organic backstory. The running time is as laborious as the trek of Glass’ party back to the fort. But if there’s one thing that I’d call out for, is the lack of emotional potency from ogling the viciousness of man, animal and nature which impedes whatever thematic relevance remains in the story. THE REVENANT is no doubt, a tour de force of its three important elements and it would be unfair to pertain to it as a gloating project with Oscar ambitions (which it has achieved). But to say the least, I prefer the parts than the whole itself.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

5. Bridge of Spies

The prolific partnership of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg reliably brought to life the good old glamor of period spyware in BRIDGE OF SPIES, remarkably understated and grounded despite being helmed by Hollywood’s heavyweights. That isn’t to say that the thriller, about an American lawyer (Hanks) who arranges a tense prisoner exchange, is slow-burner that fizzles until the climactic scene foreboded by the title. Written by Joel and Ethan Cohen, BRIDGE OF SPIES unravels the unique humanity of the situation channeled through James Donovan whose compassion, perceptiveness and professionalism were his weapons in thorny geopolitical negotiations and public persecution. Hanks finely embodied an ‘everyday’ man who committed himself to an extraordinary cause – a nuanced portrayal not quite resonated by Matt Damon in The Martian (just my opinion). But the film’s MVP (featuring one of 2015’s best performances) is Mark Rylance who won Best Supporting Actor as the wry and translucent Soviet spy. Rylance radiates a beguiling charm in Abel’s pensiveness and resignation that serves as the ying to Donovan’s determined yang. BRIDGE OF SPIES does not lose sight of its grim reality nor underplays the bitter aftertaste of war, but Donovan lulling back to his abode is a peaceful close that will usher the small victories (that he will be known for) to come.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

Up next: The better half puts women on the spotlight.

And my Oscar goes to… (2016 edition)

It’s the time of the year again! One of the surprises that came out late is that there is actually a race. Not a twosome showdown like 2014’s Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave, nor 2015’s duel of the B’s: Birdman vs. Boyhood. Guild, critic and press awards are building towards diversified winners but in fact, there is one clear Best Picture. I’ve been rallying for it ever since seeing it last May (and if you’re following my Twitter account, you’ve probably been exhausted reading about it unless you agree). Have I been correct on my Oscar predictions? Yes and no. Basically, this list wraps up who I think are deserving to win. Again, here’s wishing for 2017 to be a better Oscar year for the rightful films.

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Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Sound Mixing: If Mad Max: Fury Road‘s battle cry of the guitar-thrashing war boy doesn’t win an Oscar — not only was it bizarre; it was the perfect accompaniment for the craziest and electrifying cinematic car chase ever — then I don’t know anymore.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: From Charlize Theron’s smoky and revering eyes to the grotesque villains led by Immortan Joe, every physical detail of the characters in Mad Max: Fury Road has a story to tell. And they are just simply one-of-a-kind.

Best Visual Effects: I’m glad to see Ex Machina be nominated along with the heavy-weights, but it wouldn’t likely win. The Revenant winning for that bear-maul scene is both a joke and a shocker while The Martian‘s VFX is no match against fellow sci-fi Gravity. Press for Mad Max: Fury Road had talked more about the crew’s resourcefulness and ingenuity than for visual effects. In the end, the technological update accomplished in Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets my vote.

Best Original Song: Probably “Til It Happens To You” by Diana Ross and Lady Gaga from the documentary, The Hunting Ground. “The Writings on the Wall” is a mediocre Bond theme (sorry, Sam Smith; it wasn’t a worthy follow-up to Adele’s Oscar-winning “Skyfall”). And it’s the year of the Gaga.

Best Original Score: John Williams’ iconic score for Star Wars is nominated, again. Perhaps the Academy should award someone else? How about The Hateful Eight? I heard it was good (but wasn’t able to see it yet).

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road (God was the production designer for The Revenant. Amen.)

Best Film Editing: The playfulness in The Big Short‘s story-telling is lend by its uncanny editing but the magic of this technical element is best displayed in Mad Max: Fury Road. The car chase throughout the film was never a bore; in fact, it’s the adrenaline-filled interplay of action, thrill and suspense that made me so alive.  

Best Cinematography: While I had locked this category for Mad Max: Fury Road, Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in The Revenant was so admirable that he deserves a back-to-back-to-back Oscar. It’s probably the only legit part that I like about the film.

Best Documentary FeatureAmy

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul (Hungary)

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: If the Academy is daring enough, it’d pick Room which is my second choice. But it would probably go to WGA winner, The Big Short.

Best Original Screenplay: Nice to see Ex Machina and Inside Out land nominations but I’m all for Spotlight.

Best Supporting Actress: Isn’t it sweet to have Leo and Kate Winslet win in the same year? But I’m going for my girl Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl.

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stalone‘s return as Rocky Balboa in Creed could sway a sentimental vote. The neurologist-fund manager with an artificial eye and Asperger syndrome that Christian Bale becomes for The Big Short comes as second. I still wished Jacob Tremblay was nominated; he was the heart of Room.

Best Actress: Congratulations to one of the youngest Best Actress winners, Brie Larson for Room! The edginess and vulnerability she display creep under the skin that her portrayal of ‘Ma’ is unnerving to the point of frustration. But knowing what her character had gone through, she deserves it. (Still, my heart goes to Saoirse Ronan who tugged my heartstrings in Brooklyn).

Best Actor: He knows it. He can feel it. It’s a long time coming for Leonardo DiCaprio whose committed performance in The Revenant is… Okay, he deserves to win with respective to his fellow nominees but we can agree that this is not his best performance of his career. Right?

Best Director: All the way for George Miller who is the true visionary for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Picture: I can’t say which film had done this before but for the past years, the eventual Best Picture winner also won a Screenplay award. In that case, the Oscar odds are in favor of The Big Short and Spotlight. BUT a win for Alejandro Innaritu as Best Director (after receiving the DGA award) locks the plum prize for The Revenant which is not nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category (see the conundrum?). Nevertheless, as I stay true to which film should win, my Best Picture goes to 2015’s extraordinary masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

P.S.

I’m more likely wrong on the supporting actor categories but I’m counting on Mad Max: Fury Road to earn the most number of Oscar wins while The Revenant to spoil the night😛

Film Diary: Honor Thy Father

The titular fourth commandment (less the maternal figure) induces an ominous presence in Director Erik Matti’s latest dramatic thriller. The trailer, after all, glimpses on the misguided (and possibly corrupted) spirituality that surrounds John Lloyd Cruz’s character. But while the fictitious sect – the Church of Yeshua Our Savior (CYOS) is the film’s direct religious reference, this god (or any other deity) has no place in this bleakly toned, excellently executed, and subtly compelling film whose only struggle, unfortunately, is the receding commercial release. It was a rare pleasure to see an anti-hero unravel onscreen (and for Cruz to become one). And while the film can be borderline unapologetic that does not aim to please, HONOR THY FATHER is an extraordinary gift the Filipino cinephile has yearned for.

When his wife, Kaye (Meryl Soriano), was embroiled in estafa that cascaded upon the death of her father, Edgar (Cruz) is forced to revert to his ‘old ways’ to secure the means to protect his family. Whether or not he succeeds is left to the viewer’s interpretation. But the message is clear. While the violent On the Job slithered towards an unanticipated yet emancipating conscience among its tragic personas, Matti’s HONOR THY FATHER fosters a vicious society where the degrees of wrongness are a natural way of life. A religion with suspicious mechanisms, fervent yet ferocious parishioners and a family of criminals populate a reality that transcends from the reel. What is astonishing to see is how the different acts of wickedness play against each other and, along with the moody stylishness, conjure an atmospheric critic of irrational devotion and a despairing tale of a father’s love. There are no good people in HONOR THY FATHER, but it does not necessarily abandon the humanity of its characters.

Unmoved by Yeshua.

The film becomes a rightful medium for Cruz to channel physical commitment and emotional rage that are confined by romantic dramas he was saturated into. As Edgar, Cruz transforms into his most harrowing but equally emphatic role that requires grit and gutsiness. The wide-eyed actor communicates through his evocative vision; those lingering, straying, hollow and intense looks of a man who has seen but chose not to question until ultimately, he recoils with an answer to the people who wronged his family, including the church that tested his forbearance. Among the supporting cast, Soriano is most remarkable during the final minutes (followed by Kaye’s bathroom breakdown) while Tirso Cruz III as the revered CYOS bishop is both chilling and unscrupulous. Their characters are awakened, blinded and stupefied by a faith of disputable integrity. HONOR THY FATHER is more than the exploration of religious exploitation but the existence of amorality that ranges from a girl’s stabbing of her classmate (to the eye) to a brotherly-undertaken, elaborate underground heist. The faces of vigilante justice are unsettling but they become an accepted consequences in the cruel chain of survival.

Matti and company curated a more polished handiwork in HONOR THY FATHER, whose cinematic appearance of toned milieus adapts to the temperament of the prevailing situation. More noticeable is the subtle use of the locations, not as a picturesque interlude, but as an omniscient backdrop. The ambiance is heavy (but bearable) of silent fury, despair and mystery — the last which some might grapple due to the deliberate lack of dialogue. But the economic use of exposition complements the clandestine nature of Edgar’s mission. The characters are fleshed out by their defining actions, not through flooded elucidation.When words are dispensable, the quiet moments work through mutual understanding that can be murky or enlightening, depending on the viewer. This is a film that offers a ruminative experience based on the unpleasantness of man, but it is still possible to sympathize since such fallibility only make them more human.

‘Yeshua will provide.’ But does he?

The six million peso question is, who is the father referred in the title originally called “Con-man” (that would have been a takeaway about Edgar’s identity)? The religious roots aside, HONOR THY FATHER chronicles what a father is willing to accomplish for his love of family, albeit a criminal methodology. Edgar and his accomplices are efficient but the futility of their actions dangled with uncertainty while the worshipers’ divine imploration rang hollow. Maybe this is Matti’s way of telling a tragedy which is grimmer than On The Job. No god or blood money can save them. Their motivations do not justify the inflicted consequences. Nothing good can be borne out of evil. Only something bigger than the characters and their personal beliefs can determine their fate. The ending is bleak and everyone is identifiable on a spectrum of badness, but the outcome unfolding beautifully is a sight to behold. The crime drama-thriller lives up to its name, after all: it is something quite honorable.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Capsule Review: Locke, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Hitman: Agent 47

For this latest entry (which is pretty late), I assembled a trio of testosterone-led films that I’d be arguing about. The first two movies are quite divisive while the last is ultimately dismissive (sorry friend). Don’t get me wrong about Locke; it showcased the dramatic sensitivity underneath Tom Hardy‘s foreboding masculinity, but I’d rather see him unconfined and unhinged in more dynamic settings (cc: Mad Max: Fury Road). And while Kingsman was rapturously enjoyed by many, I find it to be unconscientiously gratuitous. As for Hitman: Agent 47, the suspenseful fifth season of Homeland is much more satisfying*. This set of reviews is not particularly rosy but for the sake of cinematic exploration, here are my critical thoughts.

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LOCKE (2014)

Film critics are on board in director Steve Knight‘s minimalist dramatic thriller about an accomplished family man’s doomed evening drive (where he basically lost everything he held dearly via phone calls). In this constricting yet immersive acting vehicle, Hardy occupies the driver’s seat throughout the film’s duration. LOCKE provides a powerful showcase for Hardy’s subtlety as a person whose family and working relationships were strained by a life-changing commitment. Guilty as he may be, he attempts to forge compromises among his duties as a construction manager (determinedly giving instructions to his proxy for tomorrow’s crucial delivery), a husband (contritely admitting to his wife about a brief affair) and a soon-to-be father (patiently calming the mother of his unexpected child over the phone); thus revealing a flawed yet moral character who bears accountability against the odds. Such entanglements inhabit Locke’s boxed environment but there’s no turning back at the highways of London. A sense of claustrophobia creeps in the limited framing of the film’s setting, much like the feeling of the loss of breath when one makes drastic decisions. LOCKE offers an infrequent incision to the male psyche where willpower is tested by external challenges (literally). Locke’s frustration and desperation are apparent but that does not falter his dedication as a man of honor, despite his extramarital mistake. In the end, he reaches his destination; the viewers may not know what happens to him after that eventful night but after accompanying him all through the ride, we are left assured of Locke’s fortitude that will drive him forward.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

A pugnacious spectacle with unapologetic coolness, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE could be the type of film fanboys are gushing for. Its arresting action sequences and glitzy spy craft lure an ephemeral entertainment with a youthful appeal, courtesy of gutsy newcomer Taron Egerton as Eggsy. But few minutes in, tossed with delirious mischief and airy sophistication, the British-American action film serves a fleeting escape from the mundane, juvenile life – made astray from a conscionable and responsible story-telling. KINGSMAN is consistent on its streak of ruthlessness that comes out as darkly comedic but numbing. While only a fictional medium, it feels disconcerting to derive amusement from violence, especially when rationality plucks viewers on the absurdity of young daredevils flirting with danger and reality taking a bite on the terrors that are bigger and more relevant than SIM card-triggered world domination. The young cast delivers on dynamic physicality, particularly Egerton and bladed hunch-woman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). The attempt to humanize its characters (Eggsy’s canine moral decisions, Colin Firth’s sentimentality as the veteran Galahad and Samuel L. Jackson’s likes and dislikes as the main antagonist), however, do not quite resonate when the film is suited in an unrealistic facade of misguided, remorseless fun. KINGSMAN got the spunk, charisma and attitude to spawn a sequel for its new-found fans, but it lacks the sobriety in establishing why its irreverence should matter.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

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HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015)

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The only reason why I watched HITMAN: AGENT 47 is because of Homeland‘s Rupert Friend. Without him, I do not have any regard on this unremarkable reboot. Bland characterization and dulling visual effects populate an aimless script that only goes with the flow of the purported action. Some scenic Singaporean spots and dashing Audis steal what already is the short attention span that the audience can only invest to. The dialogue, particularly, is lethargic as director Aleksander Bach attempts to compensate via kinetic sequences where Agent 47 (Friend) is made conspicuous in his signature red tie at the sea of black and white opponents. This video-game adaptation could possible stay true to its title; perhaps 45 more remakes are needed to create the ideal Hitman film. But in the cinematic landscape crowded of cold-blooded yet compelling fighters, a subpar movie that re-introduces an unimpressionable contender would be easily forgotten.

Rating: 1.5/5.0

*TV Review of Homeland Season Five will be coming up. Soon.

Capsule Review: Beyond the Lights, Dirty Dancing, Like Crazy

Here’s a quick wrap of the films I watched for the month of July, dedicated for the romance genre. Along with local release The Breakup Playlistthree flicks with talented leads proved to be worthwhile in their own right as they show how love can be: a career and life saver (Beyond the Lights), a provocative teacher (Dirty Dancing) and a broken rebuilder of relationships (Like Crazy). Through their earnest depiction of love, they become a welcome addition to the ever-evolving and already-expansive genre, which is arguably the closest to the viewers’ hearts.

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BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a star-making performance in this rousing romantic drama about a young diva at crossroads between her commercial success and personal life. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is enlivened by strong performances and sensitive direction, despite a cluttered narrative, that makes this story of a suffering star more alive and surprisingly compelling. A slight glimmer could be the superfluously written character of Kaz, but that’s not to say leading man Nate Parker’s portrayal is not worthwhile. He and Mbatha-Raw radiate an electric chemistry in an against-all-odds setting, sparking an inspired sense of purposefulness for Nooni in getting herself together after a suicide attempt. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood delicately curates scenes that expose Nooni’s vulnerability (most notably her exquisitely soulful rendition of ‘Blackbird’) and the searing demonstration of the unrighteousness she experiences which the audience can only helplessly sympathize (particularly the unwillingly indecent number with her villainous former fling/rapper). Such events deepen the crack on Nooni’s façade but what finally shatters her is the decisive release from her domineering mother-manager (Minnie Driver). In spite of the built-in romance, the emotional resonance is more powerful between Driver and Mbatha-Raw, whose mother-daughter relationship is richly established from their humble London beginnings to Nooni’s Hollywood stardom under Macy’s overbearing control. While the dramatic premise of a distressed superstar might be familiar to the point of cliché execution, BEYOND THE LIGHTS satisfyingly illuminates an earnest representation of its story, mainly by the marvelous Mbatha-Raw whose commitment to the role reveals her remarkable range of talent. As the film’s voice, heart and soul, she captivatingly anchors the romantic drama’s authenticity. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a fine example of a movie crossing a familiar road that manages to reach its destination with perceivable poise and existential truth, thus producing a self-assured and meaningful entertainment of its kind.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

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DIRTY DANCING (1987)

One of the 80’s iconic hits, DIRTY DANCING remains to be an indulgent retreat to a pop cultural revolution whose legacy more than transcends to the time of its’ life initial release. Viewers of old and new (me in the latter) are in for a gratifying vacation where a privileged daughter Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) immerses herself to the underground world of dirty dancing, among the many social barriers she hurdles while striking a romantic relationship with the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Choreographed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical series), DIRTY DANCING titillates with its sensual dance moves while allowing a spatial recognition in bridging the gap between the narrative’s sociological environment. Some may argue that the themes present in the film is addressed simplistically, leading to a premeditated harmonious gathering of its socially-segregated cast. But it’s better to see DIRTY DANCING through Baby’s eyes as an unusually-set coming-of-age film. More than her passionate awakening with Johnny, she blooms to become an empowered and resolute lady; Baby may be sheltered and pampered but she is not blind to the small injustices and stereotypes she observed and experienced first-hand. By learning how to dance (which she athletically manifests), Baby begins a self-conscious revolution that instigates discernment of the real world, apart from where she’d grown into, with the help of new acquaintances and love. DIRTY DANCING lifts itself as one of the most pleasurable romantic movies ever made; the superlatives rooted from the irresistible sight of Swayze in his prime along with the dreamy premise that invites a quixotic aesthetic. While the modest story lack the gravitas, it compensates with a hook on memorable cinematic elements (including an Academy awarded original song) and resonating entertainment that passes through the ages.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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LIKE CRAZY (2011)

A rare kind of infectious and shattering romantic drama, LIKE CRAZY is a sober chronicle of falling in and out of love, albeit in a testing and unnatural circumstance. If only Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna’s (Felicity Jones) future selves warned their younger counterparts of the complications they’ll face if Anna had just followed her foreign visa restriction, the fragmentation of their loving relationship would have been avoided. But such extraordinary situation of these two lovers separated by thousands of miles, only to feel despair and disenchantment in their overdue union, is the backbone of an intimate, bittersweet study of love in its euphoric highs and dismal lows. The radiance and rust in Jacob and Anna’s relationship are palpable and profoundly acted by Yelchin and Jones who are vital in actualizing the somber reality of their characters’ impractical predicament. Guided by director Drake Doremus’ narrative outline, the lead actors’ improvisation through succinct and frank dialogue is shot point-blank to the audience’s emotional investment. Having witness the irresistible attraction between the two protagonists, it hurts to see them be forced to pull apart and push towards each other as the cohesiveness of their love wear down from their physical distance (she lives in the United Kingdom while him in the United States) and dissolution of loyalty with new romantic interests during the grueling visa ordeal. The then starlet Jennifer Lawrence shines with her honest vulnerability as Jacob’s on-and-off girlfriend Samantha, who steals tender moments that counter Jones’ steely persistence. Jacob and Anna may have lost the spark of their relationship but the genuineness of the emotions blazes LIKE CRAZY to become a raw and affecting (un)love story.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Film Diary: The Breakup Playlist

As a cinephile, my expectations of a romantic musical are quite high, especially since I am a fan of John Carney, creator of the beloved indie Once and the mainstream ensemble Begin Again. If you haven’t seen both films then it’d be easier to embrace this Piolo Pascual-Sarah Geronimo starrer, which is a favorable change of melody among Star Cinema’s monthly (and sporadically Viva Film’s) churning of commercial romance. But as a reconciled Gino and Trixie belt out their signature hit at the end, I found myself singing along. All the pretentions about THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST are stowed for a more critical filtration. I give credit where it is due and for this particular film, I’d be singing some praises (and subtly call out flat notes on the side).

Fashioned as another ‘could-be fatal’ mainstream romance, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is surprisingly indie at heart. It may not bear the poetic and clever flare of That Thing Called Tadhana but writer Antoinette Jadaone finds the commercial and creative harmony that her earlier released You’re My Boss ruefully lacks. For this particular cinematic case, the genre’s rejuvenation is fitting. After all, it showcased the much-anticipated pairing of the industry’s two biggest stars. But the star power could implode the overall output if the narrative aspect is ignored for the sake of guilty sugar-coated pandering. Fortunately, the creators (also noting Director Dan Villegas), are learned of such criminal onscreen offenses and redirected their attention to the story, setting and situation of its characters, thus organically steering a journey for its two protagonists. Gino and Trixie are more than just lovers; they are dreamers whose passion for music became their stage for commercial success, romantic relationship and personal growth. Hiring the ‘pop star royalty’ and ‘ultimate heartthrob’ to play relatively modest and struggling characters is an irony that may not work most of the time, but Geronimo and Pascual’s adapted personalities fit agreeably in the scaled-down indie music scene. Indulgently throbbing of heartbreak songs and thoughtfully inspired from its humble musical burrow, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST builds an identity that sets it apart from its homogeneous and forgettable contemporaries. A book may be judge based on its cover but a single song doesn’t create an impression for a whole playlist. It may be frankly intense of emotions (to the fault), but you’d be a surprise on how subtle is the contextual heftiness the film offers.

Sarah Geronimo as Trixie.

Sticking to its title, the movie is divided into five ‘tracks’ that retreats and jumps (to the past and present) in the eventful years of Gino and Trixie’s relationship. The narrative cuts aren’t exactly inventive in manipulating the pacing but through Villegas’ guidance (like the unconventional flow of English Only, Please), the editing is refreshing especially if THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST wants to portray the formulaic love story. The dialogue, given the predictability of the consequences, occasionally slips to the ‘heard’ territory where catchy one-liners land with precision, but there’s a fresh scene that smartly incorporates foreign album titles into a playful (better yet flirty) repartee. The opening act is a meaty appetizer of the looming break-up’s gravity, followed by a sympathetic song-and-cry number as Trixie tearfully watches Gino perform without her. A steeled Trixie is introduced in the first track (‘The Reunion’, 2015) as she is reunited with her former band for a business proposition; her attitude a vast contradiction to the soulful and gentle law student who first encounters Gino as her adviser in a summer music camp (‘How We Met’, 2009). The track names would have been ingenious if they were titled after an ‘original song’, but such preference is better put off, along with the other nitpicking stones cast on the movie (which I’ll discuss later on).

Photo grabbed from Star Cinema Forums website.

Paano Ba Ang Magmahal” is THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST’s banner song, composed by the talented Yeng Constantino and originally performed by Erik Santos and Lizel Garcia in 2012. Geronimo and Pascual’s duet is pulsating of passion and made gritty by the alternative rock vibe, a welcome diversion from the typical pop love songs of the preceding romance flicks. Here’s where the film is committed in living its chosen setting, by acclimatizing to the underground venue of independent music. Popular rock artists are enlisted for supporting roles (Rocksteddy’s Teddy Corpuz and The Dawn’s Jet Pangan as band members) and cameos as themselves (Wolfgang’s Basti Artadi, Spongecola’s Yael Yuzon, and ex-Sugarfree vocalist Ebe Dancel), that bring legitimacy to the story’s immersion to indie. Rarely does a local film put ‘Original Pinoy Music’ (OPM) to the spotlight (I forever roll my eyes on this certain critique) and OPM becomes the most valuable element in THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST. As the more adept singer, Geronimo crosses from pop to rock ballad with an inspired somberness that matches Trixie’s personality. Pascual may not possess the musical chemistry with her but it does make him in-character of Gino’s egotism and insecurity. The movie doesn’t delve much into the dynamics of Pencil Grip but Trixie and Gino’s band doesn’t feel like a perfunctory device for the sake of story-telling. The self-awareness on its setting is worth appreciating because for once, the genre is not retold with a too-good-to-be-true narrative, but one where the ending is neither happy nor sad but realistic.

One of the film’s climatic moments.

THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST isn’t the most novel romantic drama of the recent times but the potency is undeniable given the emotional maturity that it allowed its characters to experience. Geronimo shows depth as an actress through Trixie’s multifaceted role as a lover, daughter, and a woman grown. Pascual remains irresistible whose ragged attractiveness doesn’t outshine his personal struggles. As staples of the genre, both are reliable in more than fleshing out the emotions of their characters and their acting prowess are more recognized because of the better onscreen material. Though definitely inspired from international releases, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is no Once and most especially Begin Again since Carney’s filmography has always geared to platonic love. The Villegas-directed film should be treated independently as a sporadic feature where two blockbuster stars personify the sincerity of love in a modest approach. With a narrative that doesn’t beat around a bush and a reassuring goodwill to OPM, these added features makes the movie more layered and rich in substance. Constantino also lends her musical genius on two other songs that are equally fervent of Trixie and Gino’s feelings. In the end, the film is a love story. What matters is how romance is retold and presented and among its monthly releases, Star Cinema and Viva Films finally achieved the correct melody.

THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is a well-intentioned romantic drama that earns points for its narrative discernment, emotional rawness, and genuine self-awareness that many of its contemporaries miserably lack. It may not reach its full potential but inexplicably, it’s a rejuvenating step in re-tuning the genre, credits to Villegas and Jadaone. Hopefully, this type of movie will not be a one-hit wonder.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Next Romance attraction for the month of July: Capsule Reviews

Postscript: Three volumes, two moons, and ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami

When it comes to the running joke among bibliophiles as to which fantasy realm they’d want to live in to, I’m not going to pick among Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings series. In fact, I’d choose the least outlandish and most normal, whose wall between reality is almost penetrable, but given the unusual circumstances, is still considered as a fantasy world. Set in one of my dream cities to-visit in the year 1984, when mystery is at its peak once two moons appear, it would be Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s curiously amalgamated mega-novel, 1Q84.

I admit; being drawn to the world of 1Q84 was more of a sentimental indulgence than the fascination on its fictional elements. The latter is after all, a literary device that inadvertently lured the protagonists back together after twenty-years of separation. Amidst the dark themes of cult and crime, Murakami created a bizarre love story, made entangled with the numerous façades of intrigue. It would appear that the mortality and romantic future of the leads are pitted against a superior force (ironically called as the Little People) but in the end, is triumphed by the most powerful of all…

(Warning! Spoilers are coming if you haven’t read the book.)

Love and hope have always connected Aomame and Tengo since their last meeting as ten-year olds. There is something romantic about preserving the existence of a moment with a special person that forever changes you. Something so reassuring when someone holds your hand and a certain feeling loops between you and knots the both of you as one – a naïvely metaphysical recognition that the young Aomame and Tengo shared and carried to the present as young adults. It was not until their involvement with the fanatical antagonist (the religious cult Sakigake) and unwitting entry to 1Q84 (from the real 1984) that ultimately joined them. But the much-awaited reunion takes time as Murakami meticulously maps eerie patterns of supernatural inspirations that pique the novel’s ordinary backdrop, where he psychoanalyzes the characters through self-realization and external provocation. Once the reader follows the current of 1Q84’s windingly chronicle through the point-of-view characters, he/she will be entranced by the eloquence and persuasiveness of Murakami’s make-believe universe where two parallel dimensions exist. Whose oddness is not disorienting but adaptable, it becomes an unlikely medium for self-discovery and the romantic resolution of finding the love of one’s life.

Pre-1Q84, Aomame and Tengo are inconspicuous in the mundane milieu of a thriving Tokyo during the 1980s. But Murakami infuses fantasy that highlights their special qualities in a domain made miscible with strange circumstances. A sports instructor, Aomame moonlights as a murderess-with-a-cause who sends abusive men ‘to the other side’; while Tengo, who was a child prodigy, is settled as a mathematics cram teacher and the ghostwriter of 1Q84’s enigmatic Pandora’s box – the novelette Air Chrysalis. It’s unclear when did their immersion to the alternate world begin (Aomame has long been stupefied by the double lunar presence even before Tengo could describe their appearance in his working novel). In its perplexing glory, the two moons has surreptitiously drawn them together – the only rewarding light from the dark tunnel of ‘1Q84’, named by Aomame to the new reality after descending from the highway’s emergency exit (Chapter 1: Aomame “Don’t let appearances fool you). Before reaching the end, 1Q84 is divided into in three volumes that cover the duration (April-June, July-September, October-December) of Aomame and Tengo’s existence in 1Q84. Murakami’s ambitiousness is transcribed through the personal mythology of its characters and the fictitious history that ripples through them. Once the narrative vertex is achieved, 1Q84 becomes more than a sensational setting of mysterious events. The picture of two people attracted to the abnormal sight of two satellites is an earnest allegory of their similarity. Both found each other’s dearest company in the confounding corners of 1Q84. The difference is that Aomame and Tengo successfully escape the ‘other’ reality while the silver moon is the only inhabitant of the night sky with no smaller and greenish counterpart floating queerly on the side.

Back and front cover as the faces of Tengo and Aomame.

Not to give further away, 1Q84 is an absorbing literary adventure whose dalliance among the detective, fantasy and mystery genres delivers a sum unexpectedly more endearing than the parts of the whole. Deep in its core is a surreal romance that transcends through time and dimension. The rhetoric pronunciations could be overwhelming but Murakami stays his novel grounded with the genuine feelings of love, acceptance, sadness and hope. As the reader becomes more privy to the mind, heart and soul of Aomame and Tengo, a deep attachment grows that makes them more alive and identifiable as real people who are caught between unnatural situations. But their love story is (most personally) affecting and satisfying (two lonely individuals who had yearned to meet each other for so long — that’s the only goodness 1Q84 had brought in their lives).

(People would say ‘be careful of what you wish for’ but I would want to stay in a world as unpredictably dangerous and life-changing as 1Q84, where I can also develop a sense of purposefulness and grasp a better understanding of my individuality. Better yet, to find the person who is also looking for me. If he exists then I consider myself lucky. But if not, at least 1Q84 imparted that something worth believing is much better than losing the will to entrust one’s faith to either the tangible or the imaginable.)